Making the most of VMworld: A first-timer’s companion

VMWorld 2016VMworld 2017 will be my third consecutive VMworld. I am by no means a veteran or a pro when it comes to this conference, however, I wanted to provide some tips for first-timers. I feel like my first time attending VMworld in 2015 was of massive value, but that paled in comparison compared to my experience last year. I’m hoping that some of the tips below will help first-timers make the most of the conference. Some of these might be too late to plan for this year – sorry about that; VMworld kind of snuck up fast on me this time around.

ARRIVE FOR DAY 0

Assuming you aren’t attending any TAM or Partner sessions, try and arrive on Sunday. For general attendees, VMworld starts on Monday. However, you can actually register on Sunday. It seems to be a real crap shoot as far as when registration opens. Last year I decided to scope out the venue beforehand to get a feel for the layout and I happened to notice that registration was open. This was at about 3:30 I the afternoon (if memory serves). Registering ahead of time will save you a lot of grief. With 20,000+ attendees, that registration lineup can get to be quite long on Monday.

The other major benefit of arriving on Sunday is being able to attend Opening Acts (and its party later that night, VMUnderground). Opening Acts is a fantastic community-run event. Basically, it will be at a venue nearby, and folks from the community sit in on panels. The topics are wide ranging, but often relate to a lot of soft skills. Career advice is a big topic, and hearing folks talk frankly and provide advice is quite welcome.

DON’T SKIP THE SOLUTIONS EXCHANGE

VMworld Solutions ExchangeWhenever I attend local trade shows, I tend to skip over most of the vendors who are exhibiting there. After all, I don’t want to share my contact info with sales folks, who will likely be calling me in a few days. What I noticed my first year was that with almost all the vendors in there send their top engineers. I would say that about %80 of the folks I talk to at the Solutions Exchange tend to be primarily engineers, and not focussing on sales. A nice change! Yes, you’ll get your badge scanned, but in return you’ll likely gain access to some ridiculously smart folks.

Even if you have no interest in a particular vendor, I encourage you to talk to the staff. VMworld is not a small show, and I’m sure having a boot there requires a large investment. If a company is willing to make that investment, then chances are they are “the real deal”. Given how many similar companies there are (how many storage companies are there?!?!), it can sometimes be hard to start conversations, or frankly even care about some of the vendors. My go-to approach has been to just ask “so, what makes Company X special?”

COMMUNITY AT VMWORLD

Similar to Opening Acts / VMUnderground, another like-minded group called vBrownBag has a significant presence at VMworld. vBrownBag runs their Tech Talks in conjunction with VMworld, and will be found in the VM Village. Throughout the day, there will be a slew of IT Professionals giving presentations. Talks this year will range from ~10 minutes to ~30 minutes and will be viewable live or on Youtube for later viewing. What is different this year is that these sessions are showing up in the session builder. So, if you are looking for a quick-take on a subject, or maybe you want a chance to approach the speaker with ease after the talk, be sure to check out some of the vBrownBag sessions. This year I will be giving two talks (one of which is a panel discussion), up from one last year.

UNWIND

VMWorld 2015 Party
VMworld 2015 Party @ AT& T Park

Parties – who doesn’t like a good one? There will be no shortage of parties throughout the event. Just decide ahead of time what you are hoping to get out of them. Unwinding is very welcome after a long day of frying your brain, but don’t over do it. If you happen to run into a speaker, or maybe someone else who you consider notable, keep in mind that they likely won’t want to answer a ton of questions. Chances are they are unwinding too. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t talk to them, but maybe consider asking for contact info so that you can follow up at a later date.

Also, keep in mind that this year it is in Las Vegas …. It get’s hot! Make sure you keep hydrated. One night of partying hard can quickly turn into a day of feeling like an extra on The Walking Dead.

ATTIRE

Business casual tends to be the common attire, but this can mean many things to many people. You’ll see lots of folks (probably %80+) in jeans and t-shirts. For the remaining attendees, it is probably about an even split of people in suits and folks in shorts. Regardless of the attire, make sure you wear comfortable shoes. There will be a lot of walking to … I can’t overstate that enough. Last year it took me about 15 minutes to get from my hotel room to outside. Similarly, depending on where you enter the Mandalay Bay, it can be a 10 – 15-minute walk to the convention area. So be sure to bring comfy shoes – you’ll be walking a fair amount each day, and you’ll be on your feet throughout.

BONUS QUICK TAKES

  • When packing, keep in mind you’ll likely be coming back with some swag. All those free t-shirts add up
  • Every paid attendee receives a backpack at registration; if you bring your own, you’ll now have two
  • If you aren’t on Twitter, consider signing up. It is a great way to keep up to date with goings-on. The official hashtag is #VMworld
  • Bring business cards
  • Bring at least one battery pack to keep your phone charged

Hopefully the above will be helpful. Overall, I suggest figuring out what you plan on getting from the event (networking with peers, vendor information, training, breakout sessions, etc.) and make a plan to accomplish that.

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